Austin was awarded $200 by FFRF for his essay.
Growing up as an African-American, I was indoctrinated to believe that Christianity is the singular path to redemption. Although my parents consider themselves spiritual and not religious and have exposed me to a variety of options, I was told by society that everything that happens is by God’s will.
In college, I have been criticized for my lack of belief. I’m so very proud of my parents and how they have strong convictions that serve as a beacon of light for me. I aspire to be as loving, nurturing and alive as my parents. They have demonstrated why morals and ethics are about individual decision and choices.
I live a life of acceptance of others, but I’m not afforded the same by my peers. I used to keep it a secret that I wasn’t a Christian until I became more independent in thoughts and deeds. That posed its own set of problems. I’ve been called stupid, and I’ve been told I was going to go to hell. Thank “god” that I don’t believe in heaven or hell, because people are so quick to send you there.
I believe in life. I’ve learned to listen, but also to defend my position without apology. Once when I was with all my closest friends on campus, religion came up. I normally sit back and just listen, but the statement that “anybody who doesn’t believe in god has no purpose in life” got a response out of me. I interjected that “I don’t believe in religion.”
They asked why. “Religion has too many unanswered questions,” I said, “and the majority of people who practice some sort of dogma and or denomination don’t think for themselves but practice what is passed down to them.”
I know in my heart and in my mind that life is to be enjoyed and cherished because this may be our only one.
Austin Johnson, from Stone Mountain, Ga., writes: “I was referred to by many as ‘not college material.’ I knew that I had a desire to learn and pursue a degree, so I attended Valdosta State University as a freshman. Through diligent study, I earned a 3.52 GPA my first year and made the dean’s list. I’ve been accepted at Morehouse College, where I will major in political science and minor in business with an emphasis in communications.”